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Do eco-friendly cleaning products matter?

Are steam cleaners good for green cleaning?

The organic food sector is booming. But is it just as important to consider green cleaning products as well as eco-friendly food?

We’re becoming more aware of our food: what we eat, how it’s produced and what’s added to it. Concern for the planet is now a big part of our changing eating habits; the UK organic sector is now worth a whopping £1.95 billion! (That’s according the the Soil Association’s 2016 Organic Market Report.)

So much for what we put into our bodies – but what about the home cleaning products we touch, use and breathe in?

How green is your house?

It’s less publicised that some of these, from washing-up liquid to furniture polish, can contain all manner of (possibly harmful) chemicals. How much of that ‘fresh’ post-clean smell could actually be a mixture of unknown fumes and toxins?

According to the EU Ecolabel board, products with disinfecting or anti-bacterial properties generally have a high aquatic toxicity. (This means they harm fish and other marine life). Not only that, they often last unnaturally long because they kill the bacteria that would otherwise break them down.

If a cleaner claims it can instantly strip years of ground-in dirt and grease, what could it do to your body – and the Earth?

Green cleaning brands

There are, however, new brands that are focussed on caring for the environment: Ecover, Method, Bio-D and Simply, to name a few. These companies try to use as many natural ingredients as possible and ensure their products will biodegrade quickly and fully.

You might expect green cleaning products to be expensive, but that’s often not the case. For example, ASDA has an own-brand grapefruit & kiwi washing-up liquid that promises to be better for both the planet and your wallet.

I like to think, if it’s good for the planet, it should also be good for you.

Are there other alternatives?

If you have babies and pets scuttling around close to your feet, you might want to avoid squirting cleaning products on the floor. That’s in case they are licked up – yes, by either.

While a splash of water and a good scrub usually cleans up most spills and dirt quite well, steam cleaners are a popular alternative for quickly removing grease. It’s claimed they are also good for killing bacteria and allergens – including dust mites, although we don’t test for this. Best of all, you don’t have to use any extra products – the combined power of temperature and pressure does the job just as well.

Some steam cleaners have a separate built-in tank for detergent, but it’s down to you whether you use it. For more advice on how to buy the best handheld steam cleaner, steam mop or cylinder steam cleaner, take a look at our guide.

Do you insist on green cleaning, or are you happy with conventional chemical products? Let us know in the comments.


I am concerned about what we discharge down our drains, that ends up in the general watery environment. Whether chemical run-off from farmland, or micro plastic beads in home cleaning products, they damage the ecosystem. Forget organic – there are far more damaging materials in far greater quantities that need controlling, I would suggest.

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You could put some of the onus on those who use these products. The NFU are in denial on the devastating effects of neonicotinoids. They prefer to use them until it is crystal clear that bees – and other pollinators – are harmed. Presumably that will be demonstrated to the NFU’s satisfaction by extinction.

Various elephants in the room notwithstanding (I too am fed up with getting it in the neck sometimes, when I am surrounded by far, far, far worse culprits), I hope that governments all over the world will someday grow a pair and disallow the manufacturing of cleaning (and other) products known to be harmful to the environment. Until then I will buy what I can afford and is easily available to me – if environmentally friendly so much the better.

In terms of the things we use in our homes, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find liquid hand-wash that is not ‘anti-bacterial’, and even some toothpaste now has plastic micro-beads in it. I first encountered micro-beads some years ago in an industrial hand-cleansing gel and it did improve the efficacy of the product but little did I know about their harmful environmental consequences. Now they are turning up in all sorts of unnecessary places and I am pleased to note that the government has announced its intention to outlaw them by the end of 2017. Some companies had already said that they would work towards phasing them out by 2020 – well, thankfully the government is going to make them do so much sooner and I am hopeful that declining sales, as people realise how bad these products are, will bring about a much earlier demise. Why can’t they stop production tomorrow [or as soon as they have used up their stocks of ingredients and packaging] and demonstrate their environmental responsibility credentials?

We have bought some Method foaming hand-wash to try out; each bottle is a bit more expensive than alternatives but the foaming dispense seems to make it more economical in use and there is no mention of anti- bacterial properties. It seems to be just as good at washing hands and is more pleasant to use than liquids. Other brands exist [e.g. A&J London] but are not readily found in supermarkets.

We don’t use a lot of washing-up liquid as we use the dishwasher most of the time but it would be interesting to know how Method products compare with the Which? Best Buys in terms of performance. In the past Ecover has not been rated highly and is relatively expensive. I am interested, however, in what dishwasher tabs contain because they must be fairly powerful [or Fairy powerful, even] to make a good job of up to three days’ crockery, cutlery, cooking pans and utensils – although doing one big dish-wash [ignoring energy consumption] is possibly less environmentally harmful than doing several bowlfulls with a conventional W-Up liquid.

Does anyone have any information on the Simply range mentioned in this article please? I have Googled, but cannot find anything.

I was wondering about that myself and came to the conclusion that it was a misprint for the ‘Simple’ range of kind-to-the-skin toiletry products. However, some at least of those contain anti-bacterial formulations which are not kind to the environment. I have ‘reported’ your comment so that Which? can look into it quickly.

Thank you, Grace.

I have never seen this range on sale but I notice it is stocked by Sainsbury’s [the only retailer so far] as well as being available on the Simply website.

Sainsbury’s price for Simply laundry tabs is 25p per wash as against Sainsbury’s own-label capsules at 17.5p and Fairy Non-Bio tablets at 35p [regular price – currently on offer at 25p]. Simply also do dishwasher tabs.

The company name is Enpac Ltd which is based in Castleford, WestYorkshire.

I am not sure that the picture of a baby inside a washing machine drum [as shown on the website] is a clever idea but I can see what it’s saying.

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I agree, but if “Simply” products are not easily obtained in the UK I don’t know why Which? would mention them. I have requested clarification.

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Perhaps I should remain silent and avoid the brickbats that are sure to follow from anyone who considers him/herself an ecomentalist. And yes, they have a point, which is hard to argue against. I shan’t even try.
Here am I, busy, somewhat stressed as a carer and needing to get on with life. I put a chicken down on a surface and I need to make sure it doesn’t contaminate everything else, so I reach for the anti -bac and do the same to my hands. Likewise I need to wash them carefully before preparing food. I don’t want the stains that were in the wash still there when I open the machine door after washing, so I use a product that gets rid of them and lo- I’m damaging the planet yet again. I need to clean the cooking surfaces and add further damage to the world by choosing cleaners that do that job well. It seems as though my furniture polish does damage too to say nothing of bathroom sprays and cleaners.
I am at the end of the chain the last person to handle these products. Before me, someone has made them, and eventually the shops have received them. There must be some responsibility above me to clean things up and still, crucially, allow them to do what they are supposed to do. I don’t want food poisoning or dirty clothes and dishes and (without going into detail) I need to disinfect things on a regular basis. It is all very well being evangelic -and I’d love to sprout wings too, but until household germs and viruses can be knocked simply by going eco, I shall keep using what works.

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This interestingly covers home-remedies and compares them with water and the commercial offerings. And end of day gives ways of getting softness without any additives.